As far as EA’s American sporting titles go, the NHL series has always sat firmly in the middle. While the Madden titles have always been mysteriously popular on the consoles, the NBA series is usually the one left firmly on the shelves. Leaving NHL hovering between the two, neither being the best nor the worst.
This year, however, it seems that EA are eager to close the gap on their own American Football series. NHL 09 it has to be said is surprisingly one of the most enjoyable, playable, and thoroughly addictive sporting titles to come on a shiny disc so far this year.
First the brand new options. Fans of the FIFA titles will already be well aware of the Be A Pro mode. In that particular mode you could create your own player and play just as that one person out on the pitch for just a single game.
So never let it be said that EA are resting on their laurels as we have here a much more in-depth Be A Pro mode. This time it’s a full scale career that you’ll be tested with in this mode, taking your player from the depths of the AHL all the way through to the heady heights of the big time.
Sticking to your position and playing just as a top star in that spot truly would is the way to earn chunky amounts of experience points to boost your characters stats. Unsurprisingly at the start you’ll struggle to pick a pass, and shots will fly wildly high, wide, and handsome. Hit the big time and you’ll notice a big difference in quality.
Similar options are available online too. You’re given the opportunity to join a "team" and assuming two or more of you are online at any one time, you can play online games where every single player out on the ice is being controlled by a gamer from one of the four corners of the globe.
Safe to say that these two modes are where the real depth and enjoyment are. Be A Pro could easily last you months of regular gaming as you attempt to make a legend out of your player, and online can be absolutely fantastic assuming you find yourself alongside fellow gamers who know what they’re doing.
The only minus point is that while all the stat progression of the Be A Pro mode is available online, it’s ultimately two separate characters. So even if you’ve a real top star offline, when you head online for the first time you’re smack bang stuck with a crappy player with shocking stats.
But of course you don’t have to put in all that time. There are all the standard exhibitions and leagues that you’d expect in a sporting title, and this being EA, there’s a lot there. And the EA tradition of gorgeous looking titles continues with some fantastic animation when two players clash in particular.
But these good looks come at a slight price. Replays are unfortunately stuck with that same jerk-o-vision which populates the FIFA series. It’s incredible that EA have yet to eradicate this strange problem, but better that it’s there when your hands are off the controller rather than be a real game breaking issue.
While the right stick control method for moving your stick remains from last year’s version, and plays a wickedly great game of hockey, there’s a "new" retro control method for those who remember the early-90s. Handy for your first few games to get used to how everything works, but you really need to get to grips with the right stick control method to get the most out of NHL 09.
NHL 09 is right up there with the best and most addictive sporting titles out there. Be A Pro is so jam packed with depth that you could spend months building up a star, and the online modes are so thoroughly addictive that you might even leave Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 on the shelves for a while.
When the only real minus points are jerky replays, and defending still being pretty dull (a same for all American sports really) then you know you have a real top quality title on your hands. Anyone wanting a fantastic sporting game, even if you’re not a fan of hockey, should give this one a go.